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Dr Gil Pasternak of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has secured a grant of over £500,000 for a project DigiCONFLICT exploring the role of digital media in defining cultural heritage. Pasternak, Senior Research Fellow in Photographic History, will lead the research consortium consisting of a team of researchers from DMU, the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Linköping University in Sweden.

The grant was awarded by the Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage (JPICH), which is part of the European Commission, and fits with the European Union’s Year of Cultural Heritage taking place during 2018.

The project will run between 2018 and 2021 to explore how national and ethnic communities around the world have used digital heritage to define and preserve their cultural assets and sense of morality.

With their research mainly considering case studies from Sweden, Israel and Poland, the three partner institutions will focus on oral history, multimedia museums and photography as the most commonly used media employed in digital heritage.

They will also commission other scholars, curators, archivists, digitisation officers and librarians from around the world to write related essays to give the project a bigger spread of data. “We will be looking into the realities that have been established around digitisation and digitalisation practices,” Dr Pasternak explained. “Digital heritage has largely become a lynchpin of educational and ideological efforts. As such it allows us to explore how established nations, culturally diverse societies and ethnic minorities transform around its making and dissemination.

“We will be looking at what happens to historical narratives, moral values and national and personal identities when politicians, policymakers, third-sector professionals and community members come together to turn tangible and intangible cultural products into digital data.

Originally from Israel, now British, and of Jewish and Polish heritage, Dr Pasternak feels the subject matter of the project is of significance to individuals and societies alike. But he also believes that the current global interest in the impact of politics on national and personal identities makes this the perfect time to embark on this project.

He said: “At the moment we are living in a time when it is plainly visible how culture and cultural differences have become key political benefits as well as challenges in many countries. We will be looking into the way that majority and minority communities turn to digital heritage in order to claim and reshape spaces, histories and various social rights. Digital heritage is a medium that confronts the past and the present with each other, so our research will have both historical and contemporary value.

Background

DigiCONFLICT will explore the impact of digital heritage on contemporary engagements with the past in specific national frameworks in Poland, Sweden and Israel. Focusing on oral history, photography and multimedia museums as some of the most common media used to digitalize cultural heritage, the project responds to the Call’s ‘Critical Engagements with Digital Heritage’ trajectory, endeavoring to challenge widespread claims about the universality and democratizing abilities of digital heritage. Even though digital heritage maintains the potential to increase cohesion across nations and social groups, it is equally used to cement elite power structures, define what counts as cultural heritage, and determine whose cultural heritage is worthy of preservation. While acknowledging the role digital heritage plays in shaping and distributing cultural heritage, the project’s point of departure is that digital heritage cannot be considered in separation from historical, cultural and national contexts.

The project has three main aims:

  1. to explore how national politics affect digital definitions of cultural heritage
  2. to investigate who creates and engages with digital heritage, and how, and
  3. to study how the scope and value of cultural heritage are being negotiated and reformulated in a
    digital context.

The consortium will elaborate innovative research approaches to digital heritage through analysis of policy documents related to the case studies, to understand how specific institutions, governments and communities define, mark, and share cultural heritage. To achieve its aims, the consortium will employ interviews with professionals and members of communities who participate in the digitalization of cultural heritage. It will study what parameters affect the creation of digital heritage products, inquire what is gained and lost when cultural heritage becomes digital, and explore who the main beneficiaries are. Findings will mainly be disseminated via scholarly and mainstream publications, workshops, and a dedicated interactive website. 

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